In hidden camera footage published Thursday by the website "Shavvim," a rabbi in a synagogue in southern Tel Aviv is seen refusing to allow a father and son to pray – since the 10-year-old boy is on the autism spectrum.
The father lives next door to the Hafizov Synagogue, and for a year he and his son have been barred from praying there. According to the rabbi of the synagogue, Shlomo Tmaiv, this is due to the fact that the child "makes noises and disturbs the other worshipers and students." In the video documentation, the rabbi is heard emphasizing that "such a child does not pray in a synagogue," and that it is a private synagogue, according to him, and not a public place – and therefore he is able to decide to not allow the boy in.
In the video, the rabbi is heard claiming that the child is not welcome in one of the Torah lessons, and a loud confrontation developed between the rabbi and the boy's father.
"You can't tell me not to come here," the father pleaded with the rabbi, who replied: "You can pray at home. You don't pray in a synagogue with a child like that."
In addition to the video, the Shavvim website also published a recording made by the reporter, Avihai Haim, in which the rabbi is heard saying similar things.
The father told Ynet that: "The rabbi and the gabbai threw us out of the synagogue. They belittle and laugh at the child and many things were said, especially on Shabbat, in front of other children. The child talks to himself. In the last year, I tried in every way to talk to the rabbi and nothing worked. Even when people and rabbis called him, he still insists that we move to another synagogue. He should simply write outside the synagogue, 'People with disabilities do not enter'. He humiliated the boy on another level."
"I don't want to hurt the rabbi and it's not personal," he added. "I just want awareness of the child's condition. There are things said there that you don't want to hear. He said 'I decide who gets in and this kid doesn't get in.' I feel pain not for me, but for the child who is being humiliated in the synagogue. I hear from my child: 'Dad, what does the rabbi want from me? Isn't this how God created me?' What should I say to the child? He is simply inciting against the child."
I feel pain not for me, but for the child who is being humiliated in the synagogue. I hear from my child: 'Dad, what does the rabbi want from me? Isn't this how God created me?' What should I say to the child?
The father added: "It turned out that he told other children in front of my child, 'Don't sit next to him, he's sick, he's retarded, he doesn't understand,' and 'I don't want him to be here.' How as a rabbi can you do such a thing? Judaism does not say so. For him, all autistic people are mentally ill and should be hospitalized, and he passes this on within our community."
The father also approached the rabbi through letters of recommendation from other rabbis, which allowed his son to pray in their synagogues in the past. A letter of recommendation from the child's school in Bnei Brak, which is adapted for children with autism, also stated that the child "learns Torah lessons at our school and prays every day the prayer adapted to his level, functioning and abilities." It was also stated in the letter that the boy does not understand the problematic nature of praying out loud, and has gotten used to it from his studies. They also emphasized in the letter from the school that the child has an "elevated soul and a great desire to get closer to the Creator."
Another letter that the father received from Beit Midrash Be'er Mayim Chaim of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's synagogue stated that the boy "can participate in prayer classes and in the synagogue. It is very difficult not to let the boy enter Torah classes. He grew up in an ultra-Orthodox home, and his parents want him to have the ability to study and pray."
However, all the various attempts to convince Rabbi Tmaiv were in vain.